Nauvoo is, once again, known as "the beautiful."
With the rebuilding and dedication of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, a pinnacle has been reached after a decades-long effort by the Church and individuals to reclaim and restore the city that was once headquarters of the Church and home to more than 11,000 early Latter-day Saints.
Thanks to Nauvoo Restoration Inc., founded in 1962 under the direction of the First Presidency, today's descendants of those pioneers and others can visit homes where Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball lived. They can visit the Times and Seasons building or the Webb blacksmith shop. They can smell tantalizing aromas wafting from Scovil Bakery. They can make ropes and candles the way their ancestors did. They can even play children's pioneer games.
For many, it has been a 40-year-long homecoming.
"An awesome responsibility," is how R. J. Snow, manager of Nauvoo Restoration Inc. and a great-grandson of Erastus Snow, an apostle in Brigham Young's administration, describes the work of preserving Nauvoo. Speaking during a telephone interview of the historic as well as the religious significance of Nauvoo, he said, "It's especially exciting and challenging to try to meet the expectations of our board of directors to fulfill the NRI (Nauvoo Restoration Inc.) mission.
"Nauvoo Restoration has the responsibility to continue to preserve and to enhance the historic sites, which include homes, public buildings and stores . . . so people who come here can experience some measure of the feelings and the sentiments and the commitment of the people who lived here in the mid-19th century."
The desire to experience Nauvoo draws some 250,000 to 300,000 per year, Brother Snow said, and with the building of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, that number may reach 350,000 to 400,000. Emphasizing the emotional bond members in Utah feel about their ancestors' previous home are some 65,000 people who come each year from the Beehive State to Nauvoo. More than 60,000 visit from within Illinois, some 45,000 to 50,000 from Iowa, and 35,000 to 40,000 from Missouri.
"A lot of people who come are members, but a significant number are from other faiths as well," Brother Snow added.
About a fourth of the property owned by the Church in and around Nauvoo includes historic buildings and sites, he said, with much of the remaining property leased for agricultural use. According to Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise by Glen M. Leonard: "By the mid-1990s, the nonprofit corporation (Nauvoo Restoration) managed a thousand acres of the old city (a Registered National Historic Landmark), and Latter-day Saint missionaries fostered understanding and appreciation of sixteen restored homes and shops by offering information about their histories.
" Other restorations came later, and replica homes were built in 2001 as apartments for seasonal temple ordinance workers. At Carthage, the old county jail, purchased by Joseph F. Smith in 1903, became a memorial to Joseph and Hyrum Smith, with its own visitors center."
Brother Leonard's book also explains that the holdings of Nauvoo Restoration Inc., do not include the Smith family properties, which are owned by the Community of Christ, formerly known as The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The relationship between the Community of Christ and Nauvoo Restoration is "excellent," Brother Snow emphasized. "We have warm friendships. We try to support their activities and they're generous to support us. We don't discuss things doctrinal. There's more that links us together than takes us apart."
"Time has worked a mighty change in Nauvoo," wrote Bryant S. Hinckley of the decline of Nauvoo in the August 1938 Improvement Era. President Gordon B. Hinckley's father, he was president of the Northern States Mission. Those same words today could well reflect the restoration of the grandeur of Nauvoo by Nauvoo Restoration and by individuals long before.
In the Improvement Era issue, President Bryant S. Hinckley writes of his vision of a restored Nauvoo: "The completion of this extraordinary project will be a matter of far-reaching significance. It will bring into relief one of the most heroic, dramatic, and fascinating pioneer achievements ever enacted upon American soil. It will reveal a record of fortitude and self-reliance; of patriotic and courageous endeavor, that should stimulate faith in the hearts of all men, in a day when the strongest hesitate and falter."
The year before, as reported in the April 1937 Improvement Era, the Church had purchased in February the first tract of the original temple lot. Acting for the Church, Wilford C. Wood paid $900 a large sum during a time of Depression. (Please see article on page 24.) Brother Wood also bought other historic Nauvoo sites, including the Times and Seasons building, and turned the deeds over to the Church.
Then, in 1954, according to Brother Leonard's book, J. LeRoy Kimball, a Salt Lake physician, purchased the home of his great-grandfather, Heber C. Kimball, with the intent to turn it into a family vacation home. Interest by others in seeing the historic site altered his plans, however. Eight years later, when President David O. McKay organized Nauvoo Restoration Incorporated, Brother Kimball was called as its first president.
With the organization of Nauvoo Restoration, the work of restoring and preserving the old city took on a new tempo. Ground was broken for a visitors center on May 24, 1969, and the center was dedicated Sept. 4, 1971, according to a Nauvoo Restoration news release from the time.
On Aug. 14, 1982, the Church announced through a press release the dedication of 16 restored 19th-century buildings and the excavated site of the Nauvoo Temple. According to Rediscovery of the Nauvoo Temple: Report on Archaeological Excavations by Virginia S. Harrington and J.C. Harrington, published by Nauvoo Restoration in 1971, preliminary excavations were conducted by Southern Illinois University, followed by work by the Harringtons, then recognized as eminent archaeologists.
"The archaeological excavations revealed a great deal about the temple and what transpired at the site after 1846, and confirmed its location and dimensions," the Harringtons wrote.
Today, a new Nauvoo temple stands on that lot, and future temple patrons and others can take a walk back in time as they visit historical sites preserved and maintained by Nauvoo Restoration Inc. Indeed, the words of Bryant Hinckley ring true today: "Time has worked a mighty change in Nauvoo."
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